With India looking to young talent to replace the old guard in the Test arena, India A’s defeat in the Caribbean comes as a rude shock. A side that contained some of India’s most promising batsmen failed miserably with the exception of Cheteshwar Pujara. Nishad Pai Vaidya reviews their performance and speculates what the future holds for them.
The promise of dramatic victory in the first unofficial Test has ended in the disappointment of an embarrassing series defeat for India ‘A’. India’s generation next – one that boasts of precocious batting talent and fantastic ability – flattered to deceive against West Indies ‘A’ and nearly emulated the recent dubious records of their seniors. The horrors of England and Australia heightened the need to groom a young brigade of batsmen and their latest performance leaves a lot to be asked. However, it is too early to push the panic button and these youngsters need to be given more time before making the transition.
Through the ignominy of defeat, the captain Cheteshwar Pujara was the lone standing warrior and has yet again given ample evidence of his talent and temperament. In domestic cricket, he has shown great promise with some crucial knocks for Saurashtra. He has the ability to play the sheet anchor role and take the responsibility of guiding the innings. It was only due to his efforts that India ‘A’ were able to secure victory in the first unofficial Test. During the run-chase, he stood firm even as wickets fell at the other end and finished the game. In the six innings, he has scored three fifties and a thirty - respectable returns, considering his teammates’ struggle.
With this performance, Pujara is probably the front-runner to fill the void left by Rahul Dravid’s retirement. It is interesting to note that on Test debut, Pujara had walked in at No 3, ahead of Dravid in the crucial run-chase. He responded with a fantastic knock of 72 that set-up a comfortable win and showed that he is one for the future. Luck didn’t favour him as injuries stalled his progress. However, considering what he has done earlier, Indian selectors must pick him for the next Test assignment.
Ajinkya Rahane’s failure came as a rude shock after the sparkling Indian Premier League (IPL) season. T20 cricket may be a different ball game, but he played by the book in a format where batsmen can defy conventional technique. Not just that, he was impressive during his stint with the Indian team and was unfortunate to have found himself out of the ODI setup in the last few tournaments. The question is: Has this performance pushed him further back? Will the selectors axe him from the Test squad after being a part in Australia and the home series against West Indies?
Rohit Sharma was the strongest contender to replace VVS Laxman in Australia and his lack of form in the Caribbean when coupled with Pujara’s performance have reduced his chances of a Test debut in the next series. He started off with a fantastic 94 in the first innings of the tour and his form fell apart from there. Over the last one year, Rohit has established himself as a proven match winner in ODIs for India. A Test cap has been elusive as injury robbed him off it in 2010 and the team management’s persistence with Laxman denied him Down Under.
The fourth candidate in the race for the Test berth, Manoj Tiwary is the second highest run-getter for India ‘A’ in the series behind Pujara. However, his returns are nowhere close to the acceptable level. What must be noted is that Tiwary, Rahane and Rohit average well over 50 in First-Class cricket and haven’t done justice to the opportunity. It has been a low scoring series with reports indicating that the surfaces have been difficult. Nevertheless, when one looks at the India ‘A’ line-up, one can see tremendous talent and potential. It has been a collective failure as they haven’t scored over 300 in six innings. Even though we haven’t had live telecast to draw accurate conclusions on the defeat, the poor stats are baffling to say the least.
A major irritant was the repeated failure of the openers. While the other batsmen managed at least a knock of note, Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund didn’t trouble the scorers too much. Their numbers are absolutely atrocious and are comparable to those of a tailender. You may have one opener in poor touch, but when both struggle it says that there is some inherent problem. Dhawan was dropped for the third game and Rahane opened in his place. Mukund has the runs at the domestic level and hasn’t converted the promise at the higher levels. In his five Tests for India, one could see that his technique was too loose outside the off stump – something one doesn’t expect from a quality opener. It isn’t clear whether the similar flaw led to his downfall in the Caribbean.
Dhawan’s selection was a surprise as it came at the expense of Vineet Saxena – the man who played a vital role in Rajasthan’s Ranji Trophy triumph and scored over 900 runs in the season. In comparison, Dhawan got runs, but Saxena’s record deserved a look-in. The question is: Did Dhawan’s heroics in the IPL win him a ticket to the Caribbean?
The next India ‘A’ assignment is in September this year when they would tour New Zealand. If Pujara makes the cut for the Tests against New Zealand, then the selectors may have to find a new leader for India A and another batsman to replace him in case they decide against picking him for the A tour. At the same time, the selectors would be in a tricky situation if they axe VVS Laxman from the Test squad. Who would they pick amongst Rahane, Rohit and Tiwary to fill in those big shoes?
For now, India ‘A’ have a chance to redeem themselves as the limited-overs leg of the tour is coming their way. Although, the major focus was on the First-Class games with India yearning for young talent, a good performance in the limited-overs games would do no harm at this stage. Rahane and Tiwary have all to play for in this leg as it would boost their chances of donning the blue jersey soon.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)